Providing behaviorists to work with first responders for crisis intervention was a priority when Sandoval County voters approved a hospital mill levy in November 2018, and it’s still important.
The mill levy increased property taxes by $63 per $100,000 of taxable value for eight years to support services at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center. That’s a significant pain in the wallet, but 63 percent of county voters thought the services were worth it.
SRMC officials said they’d use the money to provide more outpatient mental health care, enhance trauma care and start a program in which behavioral health care providers work with law enforcement on crisis intervention.
Getting those operations going takes time, and the pandemic turned everything upside-down. The University of New Mexico, SRMC and UNM Health Sciences Center Rio Rancho have done an impressive job of starting and expanding a mental health clinic at HSC Rio Rancho and putting the Level 3 trauma services in place at SRMC and seeking accreditation.
It’s all the more impressive that they did it despite the stress, expenses and over-capacity hospitals the pandemic caused.
SRMC CEO Jamie Silva-Steele recently said the pandemic put the crisis-intervention partnership on hold, and she wondered if it was still a community priority.
The Observer says “Yes,” and it’s a promise that should be kept.
We also asked our Facebook followers, and all 27 of the people who responded also believed it’s a priority.
We understand now may not be the best time to have extra people walking into houses with law enforcement because of the chances of spreading COVID. We also realize designing the program and recruiting behaviorists won’t happen overnight.
Still, with people getting vaccinated and virus numbers decreasing, planning can begin to put the program into action in the not-too-distant future.
We know many law enforcement officers already have training in crisis intervention and some situations will move too fast or be too violent to call a behavioral health practitioner. However, the more resources first responders have, the more resources struggling people have, and the better off the community will be.
The program isn’t a silver bullet, but it would help.
Behaviorists, by definition, have more training than law enforcement in helping people in crisis. Thus, they have more tools when trying to end a disturbance peacefully or keep a problem from exploding.
Plus, our officers have more than enough to handle. They have to try to calm suspects, victims and bystanders, keep everyone safe, investigate, make arrests and so forth, all while possibly pushing aside horrors they saw earlier in the day and stress in their personal lives.
With a mental health provider, officers would still need to stop immediate violence, investigate and make arrests.
A behaviorist could calm people involved, connect them with support services, suggest coping strategies and notice simmering mental-health problems that needed treatment before they boiled over.
That arrangement could take weight off officers, get struggling people help faster and prevent disturbances from growing into tragedies.
Let’s get started.